Mood-Altering Drug Use During Pregnancy: The Risks Of Medical Marijuana And Prescription Opioids

Dec 10, 2015, 12:00 ET from March of Dimes

NEW YORK, Dec. 10, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --- Marijuana is the most commonly-used illegal drug during pregnancy, and now that it has been legalized in many states, either for recreational or medical use, health care providers are becoming more concerned about the health risks it poses for babies.

Opioid-based prescription painkillers are also commonly used by women of childbearing age in the United States, and the incidence of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a phrase used to describe the serious withdrawal symptoms that babies can face, increased five-fold nationwide between 2000 and 2012.

Two leading experts presented the latest scientific findings about the risks of short-term and long-term consequences to babies from these mood-altering drugs when taken during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Jennifer N. Lind, PharmD, MPH, a pharmacist and epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Larry Wolk, MD, MSPH, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, spoke at an editorial luncheon sponsored by the March of Dimes today.    

Nearly five percent of pregnant women report using marijuana, said Dr. Wolk. 

"There is no known safe amount of marijuana use during pregnancy, and it can pass from mother to the unborn baby; and it can be passed through breast milk," he said. "The health consequences may not appear until the child is in school and having difficulty learning or paying attention."

Both the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued statements outlining their concerns about the risk of marijuana use during pregnancy and the risks to babies.

Dr. Lind noted that many women are unaware that taking prescription opioid-based medications such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or morphine, during pregnancy may increase the risk for some birth defects and other poor pregnancy outcomes (such as miscarriage and premature birth), in addition to NAS.  "If you're pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, don't start or stop taking any medications without first talking with a healthcare provider," she said. She also urged doctors to discuss the potential risks and benefits of opioid medications with women of childbearing age and pregnant women, before prescribing.

In November 2015, the federal Protecting Our Infants Act was signed into law by President Obama. This legislation will support efforts to collect and share strategies and best practices to prevent and treat maternal opioid use and abuse, as well as provide recommendations for diagnosing and treating babies suffering from withdrawal. 

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health.  For more than 75 years, moms and babies have benefited from March of Dimes research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs.  Find out how you can help prevent premature birth and birth defects by joining March for Babies at marchforbabies.org. For the latest resources and information, visit marchofdimes.org or nacersano.org.  Find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

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SOURCE March of Dimes



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